HTC Universal Review, unique and different in its own way

Like many other Pocket PCs from HTC, the HTC Universal too is marketed under several different brands. This is important, because vendors may offer slightly modified versions, differing in anything from accessories to pre-installed software. I had a model from i-mate named JASJAR.

We are reviewing a variant of HTC Universal called the Imate Jasjar

HTC Universal Review

What is in the box?

The contents of the package may seem quite low-profile considered the price. Although it includes everything you need to start using the device straight away yet a few more accessories would certainly be welcome. So, what is in the box?

The box The device in my hand
HTC Universal
2x stylus
Pouch
Battery
Stereo headset
USB data cable
Travel AC adapter
1x application CD-ROM
User guide
Quick-start guide
Although the HTC Universal is very tempting, we will leave alone for now and take a look at the accessories first. The package contains two 95-millimetre styluses that are different from usual touch-screen writing aids – these are not round but rectangular. The main part is made of light metal, the tip and the top are plastic. The shape of the stylus is so intricate that its description is beyond my linguistic skills – please refer to a photo below. Even though it is not very long, I was much more comfortable with it than with the stylus supplied with MDA Compact. The difference is that the top of the Universal’s stylus did not scratch my palm, unlike the Compact’s.

HTC Universal and the stylus
I have somewhat mixed feelings about the pouch bundled with the device. It is hard to think of any innovative case considered the hinge-mounted display. However, the pouch shipped with the device is too simple by me. It is good one is included, nevertheless, most users will probably buy a different one or do without it. It is nothing more than a strip of leatherette forming a pocket, holding together by rubber strips on the sides. It is softly padded on the inside; large surfaces are reinforced with solid plates. It will prevent scratches when you carry the device in your briefcase rather than provide protection against brutal force. Some parts of the device are not protected at all, so the first fall on the ground may well be the last. Another big disadvantage is the absence of any belt clip or hook or something. It seems that HTC thinks the device’s weight will deter anyone from carrying the device on the belt.

Case Device in the case
A stereo headset is supplied with all phone-enabled pocket computers. The one bundled with the HTC Universal is cut above the average. Its 3.5-millimetre jack is gold-plated; the standard type of connector makes it possible to use any other pair of headphones. The earplug-type headset includes a remote control with an integrated microphone, volume control, and call make/break button. The shape of the earplugs is unusual yet they feel quite comfortable in the ear.

Headset Close-up of the headset
The USB data cable is the most ordinary one you can imagine, with a standard connector on the one end to plug in the PC and a miniUSB connector on the other end to plug into the device, with 120 cm of insulated wires in between.

USB data cable
The AC adapter is relatively small, with a 175-cm cable. I had to use a mains plug adapter but the device should ship with standard plugs used in the given geography.

AC adapter
The rest of the package includes common items, such as an applications CD. No localisation SW is included but again, it should be present depending on the target market. A quick-start guide is there for impatient users, others can learn everything from a detailed 190-page manual. And that’s about all of some interest in the box:)

Design

If you are considering HTC Universal as your next pocket device, you need to answer a fundamental question first: do you really want to have a pocket-size device that will not fit in any pocket? However funny the question may sound, the size of the device is a fact you either have to accept or look elsewhere. On the other hand, size is not the only parameter that matters. If you compare the device with other Pocket PCs, you need to bear in mind that although the operating system is the same as that in the MDA Compact or iPAQ, it is a completely different category. I hate that word but the HTC Universal is a full-fledged communicator.

HTC Universal HTC Universal HTC Universal HTC Universal
The dimensions are exactly 5.00 x 3.19 x 0.98 inches / 81 x 127.7 x 25 millimetres and the device weighs 10 ounces / 285 grams. If you compare the HTC Universal with other VGA Pocket PCs, you will find that two of the three dimensions are not far from the average, the only big difference being the thickness (especially when considered it offers only one SD expansion slot and no CF slot). In To sum it up, the HTC Universal is quite bulky and heavy to carry around in the pocket.

HTC Universal in its glory Closed device Close-up of the speaker
Competing Pocket PC    Dimensions (in / mm)    Weight (oz / g)
Asus MyPal A730    4.65 x 2.87 x 0.67
118 x 73 x 17    6.0
170
Dell Axim X50v    4.68 x 2.87 x 0.67
119 x 73 x 17    6.3
179
FSC Pocket LOOX 720    4.80 x 2.83 x 0.59
122 x 72 x 15    6.0
170 (approx.)
HP iPAQ hx4700    5.16 x 3.03 x 0.59
131 x 77 x 15    6.6
187
i-mate JASJAR    5.00 x 3.19 x 0.98
127 x 81 x 25    10.0
285
T-Mobile MDA Compact    4.25 x 2.28 x 0.70
108 x 58 x 18    5.3
150
T-Mobile MDA II    5.12 x 2.76 x 0.74
130 x 70 x 19    6.5
185
Considered the large size, it is good that the designers abandoned traditional silver colour and opted for glossy dark grey instead. t is a mater of discussion whether the colour makes it appear smaller but I like it better than the silver colour of Compact, anyway.

It is somewhat more difficult to describe the shape of this device than that of other Pocket PCs. This is because, as you may know, the HTC Universal can change its configuration. The device comprises two parts joined by a hinge – a larger part with a keyboard and a smaller part with a display that can rotate around two axes: around the hinge and a swivel built in the middle of the hinge. This makes it possible to use the device in two modes. You can either open the display and use the device as a miniature laptop, controlling it mainly by the keyboard, or turn the display around the swivel and close down to the main part to create a rather bulky Pocket PC that you can control using a touch display and stylus. I believe a series of photographs can tell more than a thousand words, so take a look.

HTC Universal HTC Universal HTC Universal HTC Universal
When the device is closed, its two part are not fastened together, so it is quick and easy to open the display. The display can be left in a range of positions but won’t work with the stylus properly if it is not open fully – if the upper part is not fully open, it will yield under the pressure of the stylus until it reaches the end position. In this position, the display works in the landscape mode, creating a perfect impression of a “bonsai laptop”.

If we turn the display vertically by 180 degrees and fold up the device, the Universal will become a classic Pocket PC. The display will automatically switch to the portrait mode and we can work. Over the few days I tested the device I could not get accustomed to this mode because of the device’s weight, which is 300 grams. I should start working out:), to say nothing about female users. I let my wife try the device and its compatibility with her hand was yet lower. One would need to get used to but having used MDA Compact for several months, the difference is really big.

Moving on to design and we start with the device when closed. To make it clear, the device is lying on the table, with the inscription i-mate on the top facing the observer. Besides the inscription, there is only a loudspeaker on the top side. When we turn the device, we will find the lens of the better of the device’s two integrated cameras, a high-power led that acts as a flash, and a cover of the battery compartment and SIM card slot. In order to prevent sliding of the device on the desk and scratches on rough surfaces, there is a rubber pad in each corner.

Front side of the device Close-up of the battery compartment latch Back cover open  Close-up of the battery lock
The front is a feast for symmetry lovers, with two loudspeaker grills, three buttons, a volume slider and an infrared sensor. Two out of the three buttons arte user-definable. The first one controls the camera, i.e. launches the camera application and releases the shutter. The second one starts sound recording and enables voice control of the device. The third one toggles backlight.

Close-up of the left-hand side  Close-up of the right-hand side  Comparison (top to bottom): MDA Compact, HTC Universal, iPAQ hx4700 Button settings Key lock
The right- and left-hand sides are less populated with controls, the right being totally bare, the left hosting an SD slot and the power switch.

Close-up of partially ejected SD card  Comparison (top to bottom): MDA Compact, HTC Universal, iPAQ hx4700  Comparison (top to bottom): MDA Compact, HTC Universal, iPAQ hx4700
From this view, the rear somewhat resembles a full-fledged laptop computer with a headphones jack, a soft reset button, miniUSB connector for the synchronization cable or power cable, two phone control buttons, two capped connectors for external antennas (GSM and WCDMA, respectively) and the stylus shaft.

Rear side Close-up of the rear side and hinge with pone control buttons Close-up of partly ejected stylus Comparison (top to bottom): MDA Compact, HTC Universal, iPAQ hx4700
That’s not everything, of course. When we unfold the device, we can see another two large areas full of interesting elements. Most notably, it is the base part with a keyboard – more on that later. There are two rubber stumps in the right and left bottom corners that hold the display and keyboard at a sufficient distance to prevent the two parts from scratching each other. There are two curved LED indicators at the hinge. Both of them are two-coloured and inform about status and events: the left-hand one blinks green or blue to indicate wireless activity, while the right-hand one blinks green or orange to notify of alarms and appointments and charging. A microphone is hidden in a small notch on the left edge next to the green call answer button. There is yet another element in the area above the keyboard worth attention: it is located above the i-mate inscription and looks like a soft reset button but in reality, it is a light sensor that activates red backlight of the keyboard whenever it comes to the conclusion that it is too dark around for comfortable typing.

HTC Universal  HTC Universal
Finally, lets take a look at the last part we have not mentioned yet. the inner side of the upper part. It is dominated by a VGA display 3.6 inch in diameter. To the left of the display, we discover a small hole – a speaker for the phone. On the opposite side is a cursorpad with a separate central button and a miniature camera for videocalls. The cursorpad deserves more attention for several reasons, the main being its unsuitability for gaming: it is a standalone control (user-definable buttons are somewhere else), and it supports only the four main directions, no diagonals. Speaking about buttons, I should add that they can be locked to prevent accidental presses.

HTC Universal  Close-up of the loudspeaker Close-up of the cursorpad and camera for videocalls
Overall, I consider the HTC Universal as very well designed, especially in this dark grey variant. It is assembled well and does not look like the manufacturer economised on materials, even though the body of the devices is almost completely made of plastic but a few small parts. The biggest question is if the hinge and swivel are durable enough of in the long run or if going to service will become a new pastime of users. It is impossible to find out in just a few days, so I have no answer to that question.

Keyboard

HTC Universal is not the first Pocket PC with an integrated QWERTY keyboard. However, apart from dead-end Handheld PCs, this is the one of the best keyboards ever implemented in MS OS-based mobile devices, or perhaps the very best. I believe it is a microswitch keyboard rather than a membrane one. An advantage of microswitches is longer travel, better response and therefore better experience of typing. A disadvantage is relatively noisy clicking, which some may find disturbing, especially in quiet environments (e.g. you wife trying to fall asleep:). The keyboard consists of 62 buttons arranged in six rows. Normal buttons are 9.5 wide and 8.5 millimetre long but there are some keys of different size. First of all, it is the entire top row, buttons along the margins (the shape of the keyboard is not rectangular but I-do-not-know-how-to-describe-angular – see photos). Spacing between the keys is immeasurable by ordinary means, it is just tiny. The F and J key have the usual stops that make it easier to type without looking at the keyboard.

Close-up of the keyboard  Keyboard backlight setting
The keyboard includes two types of keys – system/function and alphanumeric. There are 12 system and function keys, including a red and a green key that control the phone (call make and break), two program control keys (the two horizontal lines whose press is equivalent to tapping on the left- or right-hand side of the bar), an OK key (equivalent to tapping the upper right corner of the screen), a function key for typing the secondary character (red characters in the upper left corner of alphanumeric keys), a Win button to invoke the Start menu, a SYM button that makes it possible to type accented characters, such as “Ç” (type C and then press repeatedly to switch between various accents; however, some letters of the Czech alphabet are not supported – a task for localisers), and 4 application buttons (two of them are user definable, mail and Pocket Internet Explorer cannot be changed).

I should not forget about red backlight which is both appealing and efficient. When the sensor detects bad light conditions, it will activate the backlight upon a press of a button. The Universal then looks like a device from a sci-fi film:) The red light is not overly intensive, so it does not become obtrusive even when typing for a long time. It is possible to set for how long the backlight will shine or deactivate it completely.

Keyboard backlight
My real-life experience is mostly positive. When I laid the device on the table, I could type with four fingers quite comfortably. Yet I found it much more convenient to hold the device in both hands and type with the thumbs as I could reach all the keys without any problems. I chatted over ICQ and typed text messages this way. It was significantly more comfortable than with the Compact. I would not probably type the whole review this way but it was perfect for shorter texts. However, it is not all praise: there are a few minor issues, too. One of them is the presence of just one SHIFT key (located on the left). If you want to type capital A or Z, you need to reach it with the other hand. The clicking of the keyboard is tolerable but those who prefer an absolute quiet may find it annoying. Finally, the spacebar occupies the same space as two ordinary keys. Unfortunately, it has two microswitches, which is why I sometimes accidentally typed two spaces instead of one. The keyboard is generally very good and surely competitive in its category.

One way of entering text…  …a different way of entering text
Parameters

Whether you like the HTC Universal or not, you cannot deny that it is a feature-packed device with excellent parameters that deserves proper attention. On the other hand, it is quite an expensive piece of hardware, so a certain degree of exclusivity was expected. That is why I ma going to be slightly stricter in my assessment because when you are buying a device at a price of two or three standard Pocket PCs, you have the right to demand as little compromising as possible. Let’s take a look now at the technical specifications.

The very first one suggests that the HTC Universal does not always feature state-of-the-art technology despite the high price. Naturally, it depends on the point of view, but certain things are undisputable. For instance, the processor is Intel Bulverde 520 MHz. Why not 624 MHz? I cannot think of any reason than price for not having the very best processor in this kind of device. Lower consumption is no longer an acceptable excuse because processor speed adjustment utilities are commonly used to reduce the consumption even for the fastest processors (however, Phone Edition Pocket PCs from HTC usually lack such a utility and the Universal is no exception). The same applies to available memory. The new Windows Mobile 5 radically changed the philosophy of memory usage, so a combination of 64 MB RAM and 128 MB of FlashROM no longer looks so impressive. The user can access none of the RAM, which is used only by running applications. What the users can access is 128 MB of FlashROM or rather what is left of it after the system and bonus applications bite off several tens of megabytes of it. The bonus applications are stored on a hidden partition occupying a large part of the ROM and they install automatically upon a HW reset to take up yet more space. Instead of the promising 192 MB of memory, the unfortunate user will be left with less than 40 MB of storage for data and applications, which is not very much.

Basic device info  Basic device info  Memory status
The different way Windows Mobile 5 uses memory also brings about changes in the way a hard reset (i.e. restoration of factory-gate defaults) is performed. Instead of pressing a certain combination of buttons or letting the battery run completely dry, you have to run a utility called Clear Storage that will wipe out the memory completely after multiple confirms by the user.

ClearStorage utility
The display is another part that can be viewed from two different angles. On the one hand, it is a quality transflexive TFT display with a resolution of 640×480 pixels, capable of displaying 65 thousand colours simultaneously. The diagonal is 3.6 inch, which is roughly 91.4 mm. Backlight can be adjusted at ten levels separately for battery and mains operation; there is no automatic backlight control. Photos look nice on the display and even though the backlight is not as bright as in the iPAQ hx4700 (in the preview I claimed the opposite but I probably set lower than maximum intensity in the iPAQ by accident), it definitely cannot be called a weakness. As for the white colour, it seems slightly better than in the iPAQ but the difference is really minute – whereas iPAQ offers warm colours, the HTC offers cold colours). Looking at the display from a point of view of a demanding customer, we have to ask why it is just 3.6 inches? Why is it not bigger? Why are there so thick black margins? These are not major issues, though, and normal users (read: not so insanely nitpicking:) will be satisfied.

Comparison of displays – HTC on the left, iPAQ hx4700 on the right  Backlight setting
The Universal’s audio features are quite good. Unlike most phone-enabled Pocket PCs, the HTC Universal integrates not one or two loudspeakers but three, a microphone and headphones output. In the front view, we can see two loudspeakers hidden behind oval grills – welcome to the stereo! The maximum volume is absolutely sufficient, which you will appreciate especially when using the phone in the hands-free mode. By contrast, the phone speaker is not as good. While the maximum volume is fine (but could be higher), the sound quality deteriorates from medium level on, which is extremely annoying. The microphone is perfect for close-range recording and very good for recording ambient sound. The recording quality can be improved by activating automatic sensitivity adjustment. Finally, the headphones output: I appreciate the fact that even though you need a headset with microphone to make phone calls, the connector is a standard 3.5 mm jack allowing you to use any headphones you like if you just want to listen to music. When I used quality headphones, the sound was perfect with virtually no noise. There is no software equalizer but some MP3 players include one and in fact, you can easily do without it. The headset supplied with the device is not as good, either in clarity or volume, but still significantly better than common “earplugs”.

Microphone sensitivity setting
The Universal offers excellent connectivity. USB 1.1 is the primary connection with the desktop PC. Despite earlier speculations, the device does not support the USB Host functionality for connecting other USB devices to it. As to wireless connections, the device offers a fast infrared port (FIR, up to 4 Mbps), which is fast not only by specification but also in real life. The transmission speed reached 125 KB/s when copying to the device and as much as 166 KB/s in the opposite direction. This may have been due to faster communication over ActiveSync in the new version of the operating system. Anyhow it is an excellent result and the infrared port can be used for copying large files!

More sophisticated wireless connections include Bluetooth and WiFi, both of which the device integrates. Bluetooth is version 1.1 with a driver and control application from Microsoft. That’s life… Their features are limited but the most important ones are present and work well. I tested the Bluetooth with GPS Navilock BT-338 as well as wireless headset Jabra BT-200. I also tried transferring files between the HTC Universal and HP iPAQ hx4700 and encountered absolutely no problems. The same applies to the device’s WiFi module (IEEE 802.11b). I tested it with my home WiFi router Asus and could connect with the WPA-PSK authentication and TKIP encryption. I even used it to make my very first call over Skype:) One thing that I did not like was the fact that all the wireless modules are controlled using one application, Wireless Manager. The application is not bad as such but you need at least one tap more than necessary to activate BT… More on the phone module later.

List of paired BT devices The list of supported network devices is quite long Wireless LAN settings WLAN output settings LEAP settings Wireless Manager
Last but not least, we should mention the battery, whose life is a very important quantity. Considered the new approach to memory, the battery can be drained completely. That is also why there is no backup battery. The device’s only battery is a Li-Pol accumulator with a capacity of 1620 mAh. The device can charge also over the cable. I could test the device for just a few days, so I cold perform only a few battery tests. Unfortunately, Spb Benchmark did not work properly with WM5, so the results are a little distorted. In general, the device an keep going for 4 to 6 hours under full load. I won’t elaborate now and will try to borrow the device again in the future to test the battery properly when there is an updated version of Spb Benchmark compatible with WM5.

As a 3G-ready device, the HTC Universal offers not one but two integrated digital cameras. The better one, which is located on the bottom of the device, features the following parameters: the maximum resolution figure is rather misleading – it physically supports 1280×1024 pixels (1.3 MPix) but can expand the photo artificially to 1600×1200 pixels (2 MPix), 4.8 mm f/2.8. Naturally, it supports lower resolutions, too, including 640×480, 320×240 and 160×120. Photos can be saved in the compressed JPEG format (four levels of compression available) or in the BMP bitmap format. Standard features are white balance and blue or brown tint. Beyond the standard are brightness, contrast, saturation, colour balance and sharpness settings. If the photographed object looks too dark (and is close enough), you can illuminate it with a high-power LED flash light. Besides standard images, the HTC Universal offers various special modes, such as contact images, collages, panoramas (you take 3-6 snaps in a row and get a very wide one), sports (5-30 photos in quick succession), and another mode that I could not establish the purpose of…

Close-up of the camera Close-up of the lens and LED flash light with removed battery cover
I have taken a few photos to demonstrate the camera’s capabilities. Light conditions play a great role when taking photos outside. It is best in the morning but when there is sharp sunlight or strong ambient light due to clouds, the quality deteriorates significantly.

I used to work here…  I used to work here… This glass-and-steel bank is usually a tough nut for digital cameras…  Prague’s skyscraper:)
The camera cannot handle too much light and the image is too dark…  Another dark image…  A still life with cemetery trees
Skoda Octavia – Simply Clever  A car designed for heavy city traffic:)  Small yellow beetle…
It is possible to capture moving objects. The image is not blurred but fast moving objects are slanted for technical reasons (speed of the image sensor).

Tram on the move  Tram on the move. You may notice that the tram is slanted – this suggests that the image sensor is slow and records the image by lines, so before it reaches the last line, the tram has moved on  Bus on the move
Close-range photos are quite good, text is perfectly readable, with some exceptions.

Close-up…  Close-up…  Close-up…  Advert
Colours are a weakness, which is usual in such devices, yet they are distinguishable one from another.

Colour test Flower stand  Waste bins – do you recycle?
The result in a dark room was better than I expected.

Mess on the desk;)  Still life with my desk  HTC Universal review on the display of a laptop
The Universal is not very good at very short range…

Image from a magazine – a cartoon Image from a magazine Image from a magazine Bus timetable
The Universal can also capture video. It supports three codecs: MPEG-4, Motion-JPEG AVI and H.263 for MMS messages. For the first two, it supports three resolutions (320×240, 176×144 and 128×96), and two for the third one (176×144 and 128×96). All in all, it is nothing to write home about.

The HTC Universal’s second camera is designed for video calls. It is optimised for capturing the face at a close distance; anything else looks awful.

What an ugly guy… sorry for scaring children but I could not find any other face around;)  …a street
As for my experience with the cameras, the application starts quickly – in about 4 seconds. It then calibrates, assesses light conditions and sets brightness accordingly, and then is ready to take photos. It takes a little over a second from the press of the shutter release button for a photo to be taken and saved, which is not bad. Overall, I appreciated the qualities of the camera. It is not leading-edge technology but at least you do not have to take down what you have actually photographed. The camera prefers softer light; taking photos outside in full sunlight did not go very well. However, when you master the camera and start using its various modes other than the standard one, the result may be much better. The device delivers surprisingly good results indoors at medium to close range. Outdoor photos are generally good but for tiny details.

Image with LED flash light…  Image without LED flash light…
Using the device as a mobile phone

Now, we are getting to the most interesting part, which the telephone subsystem. The device is dual-mode GSM/GPRS (900/1800/1900) + WCDMA (UMTS) (2100 MHz). This, unfortunately, is all I can tell about the 3G phone, because operators in the Czech Republic have been slow to implement the technology, so it is unclear when we will be able to conduct a videoconference or transfer data at high speeds over the mobile phone. That means that in this country, one of the HTC Universal’s main attractions, an integrated 3G module, is useless.

Close-up of the SIM card slot  No third-generation networks available…  Network settings
If you wish to transfer data, you have to rely on GPRS class 10 (EDGE is not implemented. Sigh…). Unlike in older devices from HTC, you cannot choose how to distribute the five available channels, whether 4+1 or 3+2. I transferred many megabytes over GPRS without any problems. The only trouble is that when you are downloading a big chunk of data (a large file), you will be unavailable for any incoming calls. An application called Wireless Modem enables you to use the device as a modem for the desktop PC in the same manner as other devices from HTC. I tried it and can confirm that it works. Speaking about data transfer options, we should not forget to mention the oldest technology, GSM data, which the device supports as well.

GPRS settings CSD line type settings Wireless Modem
Naturally, you can use the HTC Universal for phone calls, too. There are several ways to exploit this functionality. The first one can be called “brick at the ear”, a traditional way that is no longer “in” – 9 out of 10 lifestyle and fashion magazines say so. Another problem, a much more serious one, is that the phone speaker produces crackling sound even at low volume levels. What used to drive owners of MDA Compact crazy (only certain series), is back to my great displeasure… The maximum volume is sufficient, which creates a deadly combination for your auditory sense.

Those who would detest holding a pencil box-size object to their ear have a comfortable and easy solution at hand – a Bluetooth hands-free works perfectly and you do not even have to touch the device during the call. An instant and cheap solution for those who do not have/want a Bluetooth headset is available in the box. It is the aforementioned stereo headset. It does no look as “cosmic” but the sound quality is much better.

If that is not enough, you can use loud hands-free that activates by a long press of the green button. It works perfectly, so it is no problem to make notes on the display during the phone call. My only criticism is that the hands-free mode could activate automatically when the device is open and I am typing on the keyboard. In reality, when the phone rings, I either have to turn the device around and close the display or accept the call and hold down the green key for about three seconds to activate the loud hands-free, which means a relatively long silence, enough to confuse the caller.

If you use the SIM card for storing contact information, an application called SIM Manager will help you read and edit its contents.

SIM Manager
My impressions of HTC Universal’s voice and data communication capabilities are rather mixed. More than anywhere else, the device can be looked at from two very different angles in this area. On the one hand, it is a leading-edge device ready for the future. It is the first device in this category to integrate support for 3G mobile networks. This coupled with WiFi, there soon will be hardly any place where the user will not be able to use a high-speed connection. The catch is in the future tense in the previous sentence. It is great the device is ready for technologies of tomorrow but there is nothing trickier than buying electronics whose features we are unable to exploit at the present time. In most cases you find out that when you are able to benefit from such a feature (if at all), the cost was excessive by far (well, someone must finance R&D:) From the point of view of a user in a country where there is no operational 3G network and the outlook is uncertain (the fact that an operator announces the launch of a new network or service does not say anything about its actual availability to common users, as we have witnessed many times in the past), it is rather unwise to spend a fortune on a 3G-ready device, especially if the device lacks support for EDGE, which has been proliferating promisingly.

Staying on the same note, I should not forget to mention the lousy speaker. You may consider it a trifle but you will quickly change opinion after the first long phone call with the crackling sound ringing in your ears. The point is that the device is not a cheap low-end piece of hardware but a high-end communicator costing a thousand bucks. It may be a problem of this particular piece but who can tell?

Expandability

Expandability is about average. The device offers a single expansion slot for SD/MMC cards that supports the SDIO standard, which means you can use it not only for memory cards but also for various IO cards, such as an SD GPS receiver. This is the only “wired” extension option, if you need more, you have to use wireless connectivity, such as Bluetooth, which is ideal for connecting e.g. a BT GPS or a BT headset, both of which I have tested. There are many more BT-enabled peripherals, although the list of available profiles supported by the Microsoft driver is rather limited as compared to the commonly used software from Broadcomm (Widcomm). In some cases, it is possible to use the WiFi module to connect to other devices yet connecting peripherals (such as a data projector) over Wireless LAN is not very usual.

HTC Universal and BT GPS HTC Universal and BT headset Jabra
Software

The operating system is Windows Mobile 5 Phone Edition that includes everything Microsoft has produced for the Pocket PC platform. The new system brings many innovations that I would like to elaborate on in a standalone article. For now, let me just inform you that most applications have been significantly improved and some new ones have been added, e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint Mobile. On top of the basic software package, the manufacturer bundles quite a few bonus applications. Some are simple, some are quite sophisticated, combined in a very useful package.

Those who follow development in the Pocket PC world will surely be familiar with ClearVue PDF, a simple PDF file viewer for PDAs. It looks great on the VGA display; unfortunately, it fails to handle some files and you have to install the original viewer from Adobe. The ZIP compression method is (one of) the most widespread. However, the system does not support it natively. That is why there is a utility of the same name that will open you zipped mail attachments, files downloaded from the web etc. And MIDlet Manager is an interpreter for Java MIDlets.

ClearVUE PDF ZIP
The number of viruses for the Pocket PC platform has remained extremely low, fortunately. Despite, i-mate has bundled eTrust Antivirus for protection of your new device. Tapping on its icon in the Programs menu will launch an installation process that takes just a few seconds. After you update the virus database, you are ready scan the system for the first time. The application works the way you would expect: it run in the background, watching out for viruses and other pests. Let’s hope it will have little to do.

Automatic update of eTrust Antivirus  eTrust Antivirus  No virus found. What a surprise! :)
Despite its young age, Skype has quickly become widespread with millions of users around the globe. The idea of making hone calls worldwide for free (from a computer to another computer) or for a fraction of rates charged by phone operators (from a computer to telephone) is extremely attractive. The only thing you need is a good connection to the internet (preferably without a ceiling on the amount of transferred data). HTC Universal offering excellent connectivity, the inclusion of Skype in the ROM is meaningful. Those who have so far ignored Skype will at least try it. I made my first Skype call with excellent sound quality:) over my home WiFi network and an ADSL line.

Skype
Another interesting utility, a SIP panel, is from HTC. It is called Phone Pad and as yu can see in the screenshots, it simulates the keypad of a mobile phone. With some training, you will be able to type SMS messages with one hand, but by me, it is a rather risky operation. The application supports the traditional way of entering text as well as the T9 technology. There are several dictionaries preloaded in the ROM but no Czech, unfortunately.

PhonePad  PhonePad  Settings
Playful users may appreciate a game of Backgammon that i-mate included as a bonus.

Backgammon  Backgammon
I have mentioned some of the other pre-installed applications above, so let’s get to the CD-ROM. Surprisingly, there is not much on it: the latest version of Microsoft ActiveSync 4.0, not-so-latest version of Microsoft Outlook 2002, a driver for GSM USB Modem (you will need it if you want to use the device e.g. as a modem for your laptop), and a package of English-language user guides.

Pricing

The HTC Universal is being market only in some geographies, so it is difficult to guess the price elsewhere. The one I have reviewed was bought abroad for an unbelievable $1200 USD excluding VAT. Let’s hope that the pricing policy of our operators will be different and that the price will be closer to the 900 EUR charged in Germany. Anyhow, the HTC Universal will by no means be cheap anywhere.

Impressions, Benchmarks & Tests
We are getting close the conclusion. Let me therefore share my impressions. Upon the first encounter, I was enchanted – the HTC Universal is undoubtedly one of the most photogenic devices I have ever reviewed. This is partly due to the elegant grey colour but images of the device with the display rotated along two axes must fascinate every lover of pocket computers. This coupled with good-quality assembly, powerful configuration on paper and masterful marketing to arouse expectations is enough to make one drool uncontrollably upon seeing the device (but I am well behaved;) However, having read the previous paragraphs, you already know that not everything is absolutely perfect and ideal.

Comparison with iPAQ hx4700  Comparison with Motorola MPx220
I would like to make it clear that my observations should be taken with a grain of salt. It would take several weeks or months to properly explore and test all of the device’s features, not just seven days that I had to review the device and perform several benchmark and other tests. I did my best to stick to the facts but I cannot rule out that certain things may be a little different in reality. Do not hesitate to share your view and experience in the discussion below the article.

First of all, the performance. It is not that the device does not have a more powerful processor or more memory – there is actually little difference between a 520-MHz and 624-MHz processor. However, he overall performance is rather disappointing. I am not speaking about stability, which is excellent – I did not encounter an application crash or spontaneous system reset. Nevertheless, the operating system feels sluggish; performance of applications is not very impressive, either. To make it clear, the overall relative slowness is not an issue but a feature resulting from the fact that all information is stored in the slow FlashROM memory, and not in the fast operating memory. A cache memory helps speed up processes but its effect is rather limited due to security of data.

However, this new philosophy of working with the memory has nothing to do with the fact that the device has problems playing videos optimised for the VGA resolution. The result of a benchmark test of TCPMP (formerly known as BetaPlayer) is quite bad: with 89.94 percent, the device lags behind competitors significantly. Even if you do not give much significance to benchmark tests, you must accept the fact that playback of a movie with the resolution of 640×480 pixels and a bit rate of 1500 kbps is far from seamless.

Pocket PC    BetaPlayer Benchmark
HP iPAQ hx4700 (VGA)    149,52%
FSC Pocket LOOX 720 (VGA)    121,43%
HTC Universal (VGA)    89,94%
The same applies to games. It would be unfair to judge by classic games optimised for QVGA displays. Yet games designed for VGA do not play very well either. Most of them have not yet been optimised for WM5 and some would not run at all. This is not the device’s fault yet it is disappointing from the user’s point of view. Common office applications (Word, Excel PowerPoint) work fine.

Regarding the camera, I have nothing to add to what I have written above. The display is nice and is one of the best components the device offers, despite the minor issues I found. The quality of audio features is overshadowed by the crackling phone speaker – such an important component simply must not be neglected. Time on batteries is about average. If you are planning to use the device intensively all day, do not stay away of the charger for long or have a spare battery ready.

To sum up, the HTC Universal is a very good device but far from perfection. There are too many issues and unnecessary economising. Another question is who are the target customers. Given the price, which will be high or very high, it is not masses of common users. On the contrary, it looks aimed at mobile professionals and users who like showing off and can afford an exclusive device. I believe that the appearance of the Universal may cause much agitation at a top management meting of a technically oriented company:) Anyhow, likely buyers are only those who require an all-in-one solution at the expense of size and weight. A fundamental question is whether a combination of a VGA Pocket PC, BT foldable keyboard and a mobile phone with EDGE would render the same services in better quality. The price would be comparable as well as the total size and weight but the utility might be higher (however good the integrated keyboard is, it cannot compare to the comfort of a full-size foldable one). Another point is the UMTS, which is not available everywhere.

It is only up to you to decide whether to buy the device or not. In my opinion, despite the attractiveness of the HTC Universal, the time is not ripe for it, considered the absence of 3G networks in our geography. But who know, our mobile operators may be planning a surprise for Christmas and buying a 3G-enabled device will get high on the agenda:)

No benchmarks this time – first, the benchmark application I use, Spb Benchmark, is not 100% compatible with the new operating system, and second, there is nothing to compare with. It would be completely misleading to compare with devices with previous versions of the operating system.

Detailed evaluation

The HTC Universal is another device I subjected to a more detailed and stricter evaluation. This is because the rating of most devices I have reviewed lately ranged from 90 to 95 percent and it was difficult to tell which device is better (I intentionally tried to avoid a 100-percent rating). Another reason is that this new system is more transparent… That is why the final rating is NOT BACKWARDS COMPATIBLE. 90 percent now and 90 percent before are completely incomparable figures.

Now, a few words to explain the new system: Type can be Pocket PC, Pocket PC Phone edition, or Smartphone. Class means the target group, which is key for understanding the other categories. The number of points in the other categories is relative with regard to the class. For instance, a device with a VGA display, two expansion slots, BT and WiFi modules in the high-end category will receive nine points for a certain weight, whereas a device in the “entry” class with a QVGA display, one slot and no radio module will receive three points for the same weight. The date is also important – if I am rating a 1.3-Mpix integrated camera today, it will receive 10 points because there is nothing better available. Half a year later, when 2-Mpix integrated cameras will be available, this one would receive fewer points.

PLEASE NOTE – this device falls in a completely different category and features a completely new operating system. The evaluation is there useful only as a reference not for comparison with older Pocket PCs but with the Universal’s successors and competitors as they emerge. 

Rating
Name:    i-mate JASJAR
Type:    Pocket PC Phone Edition communicator
Class:    For professionals
System:    Windows Mobile 5
Date:    October 31, 2005
Design, user friendliness
Design:    10
Dimensions:    5
Weight:    4
Buttons, user comfort:    8
Assembly quality:    10
Performance, memory
Processor:    8
Memory:    4
Display
Resolution:    10
Size:    7
Quality (indoors):    8,5
Quality (outdoors):    8
Podsvícení:    8,5
Dotyková vrstva:    9
Audio
Microphone:    8
Loudspeaker:    7
Headphones output:    9,5
Communication:
USB:    9
Infra:    9,5
Bluetooth:    8
WiFi:    9
Phone
GSM:    9
GPRS:    8
UMTS:    10
General:    8
Battery, power settings
Features:    9
Battery life:    7
Expandability
General:    7
Software
System, settings:    9
Bonus apps in ROM:    9
Bonus apps in CD:    1
Accessories
Quantity:    8
Quality:    8
Other
Overall impression:    8
Manufacturer support:    9
Price/performance ratio    7
Total
i-mate JASJAR    7,91 out of 10
Notes :: Rating on the scale from 1 to 10. The higher the figure, the closer to the ideal. If a device receives 10 points for “Design”, it means it is beauty from heaven. On the other hand, if it receives 10 points for “Weight”, it means it is extremely light.

I think that’s enough for today.

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